Reframing Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day 2014 was a little over a week ago. As the day neared I began to dread it; the same way I do every year. I had planned to write a piece about how hard the day is for me due to my fractured relationship with my mom, but for whatever reason the words just weren’t coming to me.
I have written a lot over the years about my strained, and now altogether non-existent, relationship with my mother, but recently I have been asking myself, “What message are you trying to get across with this? Are you just complaining; are you looking for a hug? Or are you actually trying to convey a real message and connect with others who might be dealing with the same issue?” To be honest, I’m not sure, but having looked back as much of my writings it feels like I’m doing a great deal of whining and not as much connecting as I would have liked. I’d like to change that going forward.
In 2006, after what felt like a life time of emotional abuse (and physical when I was younger), I cut off all communication with my mother. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I can remember standing on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant where my girlfriend (now my awesome Wife) and I had just shared Sunday brunch. I can also still vividly remember feeling the pain of listening to my mother on the other end of the phone telling me that I was no longer welcome in the family; I had been told this on many occasions during my life, as it was my mother’s favorite dagger to use when bullying me or trying to emotionally break me to get her way. But most of all I can also remember the overwhelming sense of relief when on that day after brunch, I finally stood up for myself and said, “No more!” I chose to be free of the abuse.
I wish I could say life got easier once I made that choice, but the reality is that it didn’t. In many ways it got worse, but those are stories for another time.
Eventually my Wife and I decided to relocate to the other side of the country, not altogether because of my mother, but she definitely factored into the decision. And since living on the East Coast, life has chilled out as it pertains to my estranged family. But every year (mostly around the holidays, and Mother’s Day) I’m reminded of a dynamic that is missing from my life, which I so desperately wish was there. I wish I had a mother/son relationship to foster in my life, and even more now that I have a child of my own.
It has been very difficult to see other friends who have had children cultivate, grow and experience this new and awesome relationship with their kids and their parents. I witness how they change as adults, and cannot help but be a bit envious as they can lean on the lessons of their parents to help them become better parents themselves. I don’t have that feeling or resource for my son, but more importantly I don’t have that relationship for me. This leads to a great deal of my anxiety about being a parent.
I know that parental estrangement is not as uncommon as it used to be, which is kind of sad in itself, because that just means the idea of broken families and estranged kids has become the norm now. In fact, it’s becoming so common that individuals in the media are starting to take notice.
At the end of 2013, I was honored to be interviewed for article written on the Huffington Post Parents website. The article was about people who have become estranged from their parents, and have now become parents themselves. Titled, “How To Be A Parent When You’ve Stopped Talking To Your Own,” was written by Catherin Pearson and did an excellent job capturing the whirlwind of feelings experienced by a new generation of young parents who don’t necessarily have the strong family dynamic to lean on.
In the article Pearson quotes a psychologist (Joshua Coleman) who says that one reason why we see estrangement on the rise is that over the last five decades we have become a “culture of individualism.” He goes on to say that kids are now asking themselves, “Does this family work for me?   Is this where I want to be?” While not altogether untrue, I really feel Coleman’s point of view make this topic way too narrow.
At least for me, and many others whom I have spoken with over the years, the decision to break ties with our families did not come as easy as it sounds in Coleman’s questions. It wasn’t simply a question of does this work for me. The simplistic question strips away all contexts for why people feel the need to break ties. It instead make people sound selfish and self-centered, when in many, if not most cases those same individuals would give anything to have family support.   For me, I had dealt with what felt like a lifetime of abuse, and one day I decided enough was enough. And though I made that decision, almost a decade later it’s still very hard on me; sometimes on a daily basis. Since making that decision I have battled my own substance abuse issues, and I still battle depression on a regular basis. But through all my trials I do feel lucky that I have had some incredible friends and loved ones, like my Wife, by my side to help me through.
The past eight years’ worth of Mother’s Days have been hard; not having someone of my own to call and say, “Hey, thanks for being an awesome mom to me.” But, it’s not like the mother’s days pre-estrangement were all puppy dogs and rainbows either. So for last two years I have made a strong effort to reframe how I see Mother’s Day. While it will always be hard because of my past, I have instead chosen to focus on, not the mother that I had, but the mother I live with now. I am trading in the sadness and negativity of the mother who I lived with growing up, for the mother that I live with now and who is raising our son to be a healthy and happy boy. And like so many ways we celebrate in our house, my Wife chose to celebrate Mother’s Day 2014 with me. She did that by buying me a Mother’s Day gift saying, “I know this is my day, but I couldn’t do it without you.” We both know she could, but it’s still nice to be loved so much that she would say that.

Gifts my Wife got for *me* on Mother’s Day, because we do this as a team.


Avoiding Generation Meh

I was listening to the radio the other morning, as I do most mornings at work. I tend to listen to sports-talk radio while I sit at my desk and slag away at my mindless job. Like many people here in the DC area, I am a transplant from another (and frankly more awesome) part of the country. I hail from the heaven on Earth known as San Diego, CA, but that’s not really part of the story, I just like saying it.
I listen to a show in the mornings called the Sports Junkies. While the show is obviously geared around sports, the four guys who host the show bring a lot of pop culture and other aspects of life into the format to help reach a broader range of listeners. All four hosts are also married and have kids, which anyone knows about radio shtick, helps tremendously with anecdotes and jokes.
The majority of the jokes and humor are obviously geared towards the main demographic of the show (which I fall into), the male 18-45 range we hear so much about in entertainment. I just realized as I typed that how much closer I am to one side of that demo than the other; yikes, lol. And while I normally laugh along and write off most of the jokes about their wives and kids and normal shtick, one topic that was discussed on a recent show kind of grabbed me, and hasn’t let go.
On a recent show the men were joking and wondering if their kids (all who have grown up in what some would call a fairly cushy life due to their father’s decent fame in the radio industry, and thus sizable paychecks) did really possess the necessary life skills to “make it” if they were gone. One of the foursome joked/lamented that his son lays around all day on weekends and complains about being bored, all the while having all the trappings of iPads and iPhones, video games and every other piece of media entertainment readily at his fingertips. Another talked about how his kids don’t know what it feels like to sit in regular seats at sporting event as they have grown up around the free box seats and hook-ups their dads get via their local celebrity status. And finally all the men joked (or as it is in the DC slang “jonin”) on another member of the show because he discourages his son to wash his own car, and instead take it to a car wash to have someone else do it.
Again, all the comments were made in jest; however, there was a very real common thread in the jokes, and that was that their kids have all grown up soft, and have no life skills. Now, it wasn’t necessarily the fact that their kids were being depicted as lazy that stuck with me, or the fact that this can be said for a lot of kids these days; as technology advances we as a society creep closer to the couch; soon we’re all going to look like the people on Wall-E. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up.
What got me was a comment made by one of the hosts. He claimed that while he hated to see his son lay around all day and complain to be bored, and even doubts his kid knows how to make a sandwich (SAY WHAT?!?), he didn’t really hold it against him because he himself is not a “manly-man” and didn’t really know, or even want to teach his son how to be a man.
OK, I’m going to leave the “how to be a man” comment for another time, because that phrase, #1 – pisses me off, and #2 – is probably a series of posts within itself. However; what I will talk about is how we, as fathers, or even mothers, let our kids just float along in life because we may not feel ourselves that we are “manly enough” to teach them life skills. I mean, isn’t that the definition of parenting; to teach our children to eventually be functioning adults some day? Isn’t that what you signed up for when you decided to procreate?
Look, I kind of get where that thought process can come from, as I was raised in a one parent household. And it’s not like my mom was a loving/nurturing/supportive person either. My mother’s parenting technique would make growing up with the Lannister’s like a cake-walk.
If you don’t know who the Lannister’s are; I mean what are you doing with your life?
But despite my upbringing, I still learned to survive. Granted, I don’t really know how to sew, or even really change the oil on my car, but I do know basic life skills like cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, and even changing a flat tire; all skills that each member of the show joked/lamented that their kids knew nothing about.
Why is this funny? Why is it funny to watch the generations that we are responsible for raising and teaching, flounder and struggle with the life’s most basic skills?
Look, I by no means see myself as a manly-man. Or at least not how manly-men have been depicted in the media for many, many years. But, I am someone’s dad, and I am someone’s husband, and that, in and of itself is enough of a driving force for me to want to know things; to gain knowledge on how to survive and provide, and furthermore to pass along that knowledge to my son.
I refuse to accept that my son, and any future children, should be allowed to lay around all day and do nothing with themselves. I pray for my son’s sake that he never says the phrase, “I’m bored” to me while growing up because I will simply explain to him how stupid that sounds. I saw comedian Louis CK on some late night talk show some time back, and explained what he said to his daughters when they said they are bored to him. He said, “’I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’”
Like I said, I know most of what the guys on the Sports Junkies were saying was meant to be light-hearted and semi-self-deprecating, but it’s at times like that, when people least expect they’re being vulnerable, that truth leaks out. I would venture to guess that many parents feel the exact same way about their kids as the guys were joking about. And instead of going on and correcting that by gaining knowledge themselves to pass on to their kids, they just sit back and watch a whole generation begin to fade away into the vast nothingness that is technology.